Comparative Theology - Preserving the Faith


all right good morning everyone
everybody hear me okay okay in the name
of the Father the Son and the Holy
Spirit one God amen if you guys have
been around the last few weeks you know
that we've been studying comparative
theology we were talking about a bunch
of different faiths and what is our
Orthodox understanding and today before
munna Paul had gone out of town he had
actually asked me to speak about
Jehovah's Witnesses so I spent all week
preparing and reading about Jehovah's
Witnesses and then on Friday morning
when I checked the news I heard the
incident that the recent the most recent
incident that happened in Egypt and the
newest martyrs of the Coptic Church and
I thought to myself something doesn't
feel right here how can I come here and
speak about incorrect faith when there
are people who are offering their blood
for the correct faith so I felt like the
most important thing to do today was to
speak about the correct faith and how we
can have the same faith that they had
the faith that no matter what happened
no matter what persecution came they
said I will not deny and that's what we
want to talk about today so the main
point of today is that when it comes to
comparative theology if I know my faith
if I know the correct way whenever
there's a deviation I'm going to be able
to recognize it right away make sense if
I know where I'm going as soon as
something is a little off I'm going to
know right away and that's what we're
going to talk about today so you know
when incidents like Friday happen when
the martyrs happen our theology all of a
sudden becomes very real because what is
theology theology is the knowledge of
God right
so when theology is separated from life
it has no meaning and what you saw on
Friday was theology become very very
real you can see those church members
not only confessing their faith but
stamping it with their blood and a lot
of times unfortunately especially those
who were raised in the church and grew
up in the church we go through the
motions sometimes
we may hear or say things in the church
that we don't even think about let me
give you an example at the end of the
liturgy when a Boone appraised the
confession he says I believe I believe I
believe and confess to the last breath
that this is the life-giving body of
your only begotten Son what do you think
it means to confess to the last breath
what does that mean you know what that
means literally is that till the day I
die and even if I'm threatened with
death I cannot confess anything other
than this is the life-giving body of
your only begotten Son Lord Jesus Christ
and for us in the Coptic Church these
days it seems like the martyrs are
becoming very common but if you look at
the history of the Coptic Church that's
nothing new for us okay that is the
history of the Coptic Church the Coptic
Church is the Church of martyrs the
Coptic Church is what cost Churchillian
in the third century to say the
following he said if the martyrs of the
whole world world were put on one arm of
the balance and the martyrs of Egypt on
the other the balance will tilt in the
favor of the Egyptians
that's third century okay and imagine
all the martyrs that have been added
through the years the Coptic churches
the Church of mark even our Coptic
calendar starts with what the martyrs
it's based around martyrdom and I'll be
honest I'll tell you something that no
matter what happens in any of our
churches okay in any parish in the
Coptic Church and every church has their
issues no matter what happens whenever I
hear of an incident like Friday
it always strengthens my faith it always
encourages me and lets me know that
we're actually going in the right
direction and we'll talk about that more
as we go through so what does the word
martyr mean anybody know what the word
martyr means it actually means to
witness it means to witness and now the
Coptic Church is witnessing to Christ
all over the world okay everyone can see
that the martyrs have witnessed by their
blood the families have witnessed by
their reaction I don't know if you guys
saw the last incident
happened on Palm Sunday if you saw the
reaction of the families with the
forgiveness and you saw the reaction of
people towards that I remember there was
like a TV host in Egypt a very
well-known TV host and he was so struck
by how these people could forgive
incident after incident so the Coptic
Church is witnessing and every time it
offers martyrs it offers a witness to
the world and when people march in the
streets in a hostile country and they
say you know what I'm not scared to deny
my faith even cost me my life that's a
witness to the world so let's try to
understand the Christian meaning of
martyrdom in Philippians 1:29 it says
for to you it has been granted on behalf
of Christ not only to believe in him but
also to suffer for his sake it has been
granted to you you know what that means
believe it or not it's a gift it's a
gift to be able to suffer for him now I
know many of us we don't want to suffer
and we don't like suffering but when we
understand martyrdom correctly it's a
gift that we have been granted to suffer
for his sake Romans 8 17 and 18 says and
if children then heirs meaning if we're
children of God we are heirs of God and
joint-heirs with Christ if indeed we
suffer with him that we may also be
glorified together for I consider that
the sufferings of this present time are
not worthy to be compared with the glory
which shall be revealed in us okay so
the the mindset of the martyrs is that
whatever happens on this earth this is
not my place the glory that comes after
is what gets me through something like
this now this picture to me is like the
icon of martyrdom now this is the new
icon and before this happened a couple
years ago you know when we read this in
acts areum it's always martyr after
martyr after martyr but until I saw this
picture and I saw with my own eyes it
finally came to life for me so listen to
what st. Clement of Alexandria says he
says we call martyrdom perfection not
because the man comes to the end of his
life as others but because he has
exhibited the perfect work of love there
is nothing greater that you can do than
to offer your life and that's exactly
what Christ did he offered his life so
in the mind of the martyr I can
nothing more than to offer my life back
so as you see the Coptic Church offering
martyrs century after century after
century there has to be some sort of
secret behind that right there has to be
a secret that we need to understand and
you know what the answer is very simple
but it might not be what you think so
let's read this verse from Jude this is
verse 3 it says beloved while I was very
diligent to write to you concerning our
common salvation I found it necessary to
write to you exhorting you to contend
earnestly contend earnestly for the
faith which was once for all delivered
to the Saints contend earnestly means
what means that you fight for that faith
and the faith was delivered how many
times once there's no mistakes in the
faith ok so when you hear about
Jehovah's Witnesses and all these cults
and deviations and things like that ask
yourself was there a mistake in the
first faith no the faith was delivered
once look at what st. Athanasius says he
says let us look at the very tradition
that's a key word tradition I know
tradition has a very bad connotation in
people's mind but that's what we believe
in look at the very tradition teaching
and faith of the Catholic Church and
when he says Catholic he's talking about
the universal church he's not talking
about the Roman Catholic Church the
Roman Catholic Church split way after he
said this so there is only one as we say
in the liturgy one holy catholic
apostolic church from the very beginning
which the logos Jesus Christ gave the
Apostles preached and the father's
preserved upon this the church is
founded that's how we receive our faith
it was handed down to us or said another
way we follow in the footsteps of the
flock as it says in the song of songs we
follow in the footsteps of the flock now
how did we receive our faith through
holy tradition in the Orthodox Church we
believe there are six ways that the
faith is transmitted to us okay I'm not
going to go through all of these but
this is just for your own understanding
the first one is Holy Scripture we
actually believe
that the Bible is part of the tradition
okay the Bible was written by the church
for the church and in the church okay so
we receive the Holy Scripture liturgies
what's older liturgies or the Bible or
the New Testament at least what's older
liturgies are older if you want to look
at the first book written a New
Testament you know when it was written
it was around the Year 52 or so 52 so if
Christ died let's say 30 or 33 whatever
some scholars say how can you account
for 20 years before just the first book
of the New Testament was written you
know the last book was written around 95
to 100 AD so how can we account for the
church living its life they were living
through liturgy and many other things we
also received the canons or or the
decrees of the church that come from the
council's from the consensus of the
church the Creed's or the statements of
faith and the Church Fathers those who
were as Saint Athanasius said What did
he say he said it was given to Christ he
gave to the apostles the Apostles
preached it and the fathers did what
they kept it they preserved it and
that's how we have the church and then
even the icons of the church you know
there's a there's a you know Christ he
came to the land of Egypt right but the
Bible doesn't say how long he was in the
land of Egypt for so in the the 1980s I
believe there was a German researcher
who found a a manuscript that said that
Christ was about three and a half years
old when he left the land of Egypt but
even before that there was a cons in the
Coptic Church that show Christ in Egypt
or leaving Egypt as coming in as an
infant first of all and then leaving as
a young boy so you see how the faith and
how things were handed down through even
iconography the goal of an icon is not
just a nice decoration in church but it
conveys a message so even someone who is
illiterate who can't read can look at an
icon and understand theology through the
icon okay our measuring stick saint
of Larenz has a nice statement where he
says hold fast the faith which has been
believed everywhere always and by
everyone everywhere how widely is the
doctrine believed how widely is the
doctrine believed always how old is the
doctrine you know when I was reading
about Jehovah's Witness you know when
they came on the scene the late 1800s
the late 1800s wasn't the faith already
delivered yes so you have to ask
yourself what is going on there and then
by all what is the consensus of the
church teaching and if it doesn't fit
any of that criteria then you know very
well this is not the correct faith so
last week I was asked to give the kids
liturgy sermon so I was really focused
on the gospel of last week and the
gospel last week was when Christ said I
am the way the truth and the life
so all this week when I was preparing
this phrase just kept coming in my mind
I am the way the truth the life I am the
way the truth the life and and when I
was preparing for to speak about
Jehovah's Witnesses in comparative
theology you see a deviation right you
see something that's not correct and I
kept saying I am the way the truth and I
kept hearing it I am the way the truth
and life so I'm going to talk very
briefly about the way the truth and the
life and how this can be our model of
how we can keep the faith that those
martyrs are willing to die for so this
verse came to mind as well it says from
proverbs 22:6 it says train up a child
in the way he should go and when he is
old he will not depart them let me ask
you a question
when we raise our children do we give
them a book and say hey if you want to
learn to brush your teeth turn to page
13 and if you want to learn to ride a
bike go to page 56 and if you want to
learn to drive a car go to page 125 is
that what we do we don't do that right
kids learn by watching us yes we we
teach them and we we give them
instruction but they learn from watching
us and you know what's a great example
of this I mean it's not the best thing
but how do kids pick up our bad habits
do we teach our bad habits we don't
right we don't teach those but they pick
them up you know why because that's what
they observe okay that's what they
observe so if you train a child in the
way he should go when he's old he's
gonna recognize he's not going to depart
from it and Jesus said I am the way no
one comes to the Father except through
me so if I want to reach the father if
the way to the Father is Christ if I
want to be saved and if I have a problem
in other words in this life as humans we
are subject to death I spoke about this
before in the past we are subject to
death the problem reigning over us is
death so if I want to receive life I
need to be united with the one who has
life it's like if if I were to go to
your work for example most jobs now you
have like a security card or a clearance
or a key or whatever to get you in a
door right a lot of people have that if
I don't have my key what do I need to do
I need to go with somebody who has the
key okay and Christ has the key to life
but it's not just I'm walking behind him
or I'm in the same room with him and
he's taking me through the door it's
different okay
I am United with him the goal is to be
united with him United how Ephesians 5
this is this is the the passage that we
read the Pauline epistles that we read
in weddings
it says husbands love your wives just as
Christ also loved the church and gave
himself for her that he might sanctify
and cleanse her with the washing of
water by the word that he might present
her to himself a glorious church not
having spot or wrinkle or any such thing
but that she should be holy and without
blemish so husband's ought to love their
own wives as their own bodies he who
loves his wife loves himself for no one
ever hated his own flesh but nourishes
and cherishes it just as the Lord does
the church so look at how Christ is
taking care of the church what is he
doing he's nourishing it and cherishing
it in the contents think of it in the
context of a husband and a wife for we
are members of his body of his flesh and
of his bones for this reason a man shall
leave his father and mother and be
joined his wife
and the two shall become one flesh this
is a great mystery but I speak
concerning weddings right no I speak
concerning what concerning Christ and
the church
so when you see a man and a woman and we
say in the church it's one of the
mysteries when you see them becoming one
flesh Christ is becoming one flesh with
who with us okay we are his bride and it
is is not just a matter of going through
the doors but it is a matter of being
united with him and we see Christ
offering himself for the church and in
the case of a martyr what did they do
they offer themselves back to Christ
that's the life of the church the church
sees Christ offering himself and the
church responds by offering itself and
that's what we do in the liturgy it's an
exchange of life I'm giving him my life
in order to receive his so if I wanted
to be united with him and he's speaking
about Christ in the church where do I
need to be I need to be in the church I
need to participate in the life of the
church and as I said earlier let me give
you another example if I'm in the church
and there's a deviation I'm going to
know the way exactly so let's say every
day when you go to work you take the
same route to work every single day you
know it inside and out it's the only way
to get to your job one day your car
breaks down and you need a ride from
your coworker to get you home from work
and you give him the directions and then
he decides to take a wrong turn what are
you going to tell him you can say wait a
second no no this is not the right way I
know the way very well is the way I go
you need to get on the right path even
better yet if you fall asleep let's say
he's driving and you happen to fall
asleep when you wake up what are you
going to notice around you you're going
to look around and say wait a second
this is not the right place I'm gonna
recognize it just from my surroundings
and it's the same way with our faith the
same exact thing is that I if if I'm
participating in the true life of the
church I'm going to know right away when
something is wrong so these martyrs that
lost their lives on Friday where were
they going they were taking
trip to the monastery and every single
one of us knows what that's like
or at least most of us have experienced
that okay now I know in Egypt the
monasteries are more and maybe it's
easier to get to but here in America now
the Coptic monasteries are growing and
it's able to do that but me I've never
met any of those people I never met any
of those martyrs but for me the life was
the same when they said they're going to
a monastery I could relate to that you
know why because that's the life of the
church we go to monasteries we pray with
the monks we learn from the monks we say
that as bad we live that life okay that
is the life of the church okay so that's
the way we have to keep the way the
truth okay
Christ said I am the truth you know the
goal of studying theology is to discover
truth it's the discover truth is
supposed to strengthen your faith when
you learn about other things and you say
wait a second that's not true
that's not correct what is true how can
I know if something is true jesus said
I'm the truth but look at what 1st
Timothy says it says but if I am delayed
this is st. Paul speaking I write so
that you may know how you ought to
contact conduct yourself in the house of
God which is the Church of the Living
God the pillar and ground of the truth
you want the truth you know what the
truth is found it's found in the church
the church is not a building the church
is the body of Christ and the head of
that body is Christ himself
so let me give you another example here
this is from Acts chapter 9 this is when
Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the
way to Damascus it says then Saul still
breathing threats and murder against the
disciples of the Lord went to the high
priest and asked letters from him to the
synagogue's of Damascus so that if he
found any whore of the way this is the
way early Christians were called
followers of the way whether men are
women he might bring them bound to
Jerusalem okay so what was he doing he
was persecuting members of the church
correct he was trying to drag them off
put them in prison right
he was persecuting members of the church
and when Christ appeared to him what did
he say to him he said Saul Saul why are
you persecuting me if you don't believe
that you are a member of his body
why would Christ appear to Saul and tell
him why are you persecuting me
right and even better think about
something else
Christ appeared to Saul himself right
wouldn't it be enough if Christ had
appeared to any of us but what did
Christ tell him to do he said go you'll
find someone named Ananias and go and do
what be baptized by him
couldn't Christ to baptize them why do
you have to send it to somebody else
because he sent him to the church Christ
left us the church okay and that is the
pillar and the ground of truth if you
guys will remember a few weeks ago when
when we had a couple guests here who
were Protestant converts and one of them
said something that I loved it was so so
it was so very real okay he said and
they were searching for churches okay
they wanted to find the truth he said
whether or not I like it is irrelevant
if I love it but it's false
I'll leave meaning he's coming to visit
of church and if I love the church but
it's false then I'm going to leave that
church but if I hate it and it's true
then I have to conform that makes sense
okay it doesn't matter what I like it
doesn't change
if I like it and it's false it's not
going to do me any good okay but if I
don't like it and it's true then I'm the
one who needs to change let me give you
an example so in the Creed we say every
every Sunday we recite the Creed several
times okay and before we start the
liturgy that's kind of our our starting
point for the liturgy and that's when we
say our statement of faith and when we
speak about Christ we say he is coming
again in his glory to judge the living
and the dead I say that every Sunday
right he's coming in his glory to judge
the living the dead let me ask you a
question does it matter
whether or not I don't like the fact
that he's caught he's going to judge me
one day you know we hear this a lot
don't judge me or if people don't like
to hear about the judgement of God does
that mean that it's not true does that
make it any less true it doesn't okay so
we have to understand what we are saying
what we are what we are reciting what we
were doing one of the russians saint
saint fell out of moscow he has a nice
phrase he says the creed does not belong
to you unless you have lived it how many
of us for years and years and years we
come to the church and we reciting the
Creed week after week and maybe day
after day okay if I haven't lived it it
it does not belong to me see man was
created in God's image not vice versa
okay I cannot create my own God okay
that's why Jesus said I am the truth
there is one truth and he is it okay I
can't a lot of times I want to create my
own God I want to say that God is XYZ it
doesn't work that way okay God is truth
and we have to understand that truth
those people that were almost busses
that day they received enough truth in
the church to be able to say I can't
deny this truth even that young children
can you imagine young children being
told to deny the faith but those young
children who were not theologian
studying in a seminary received enough
truth that said I can't deny even if it
cost me my life can you imagine a young
child how can we we receive that that
should be you and I last thing and maybe
the most important the life st. John and
his first epistle says the life was
manifested and we have seen in bear
witness and declare to you that eternal
life which was with the father and was
manifested to us what's the life here
what is he talking about he's talking
about Christ Jesus said I am the life
the life was manifested Christ was
manifested he took flesh he came to us
we have seen with our own eyes and we
bear witness to you the eternal life
okay in John 17 is going to say
think this is eternal life that you
would know God the Father and Jesus
Christ his son so we're telling you the
eternal life the life that came was
incarnate manifested to us this is what
we are telling you the life which was
with the father and manifested to us
remember um on Holy Thursday when Christ
and his last discussion with the
disciples remember when I think was
philip said show us the father and
Christ said haven't you been with me so
long and how can you say show us the
father okay this was st. John is saying
the life Christ was manifested to us
life see I think sometimes the problem
is that we turn theology into academic
study okay theology without life without
practice means nothing it means nothing
if you look at the last few incidents of
martyrdom where did they take place this
one on the way to a monastery the ones
before that were we're praying a liturgy
praying a liturgy this is life this is
our life this is what we do we pray
liturgies as cops as Orthodox on Sunday
on feast days on whatever days we pray
the liturgy Evagrius of Pontus says a
true theologian is one who prays and one
who prays is a true theologian so this
young child who can pray and say you
know what this life is important enough
to me that I don't want to watch TV for
these few minutes right now I want to
spend time with God
I want to pray how important is that
life to you and I I remember a few years
ago when I was serving high school and
we had just come back from a high school
retreat and I remember one of the
mothers calling me and telling me about
her son and she kept she told me she's
like can you please tell him to read the
Bible and I knew the family very well
okay and I knew the situation and
actually I asked her something very bold
I said let me ask you a question I said
I said do you read the Bible she said no
I said there you go how is it that you
don't read the Bible okay
but you expect your son to come home and
read the Bible we know very well that
most of the time our kids don't listen
to what we say they follow what we do
okay so a lot of times that's our
mentality in the church is that tell my
son to do XYZ no you tell your son to do
XYZ and better yet don't tell him to do
it you do it you do it okay this is how
this is this is what I'm saying is that
life is real if I come in the church and
I act one way and then I go outside the
church and I act another way then my
theology is worthless everything I said
in the liturgy I believe I believe we
believe I believe I don't believe it
because that's not what my actions say
and so life also in our Orthodox
understanding is not just about me look
at this quote coming from a monk Saint
Anthony the great the father of monks he
says our life and our death is with our
neighbor if we gain our brother we have
gained God but if we scandalize our
brother we have sinned against Christ
isn't that amazing that's coming from a
monk who's supposed to be by himself do
you think monastic life is I hate this
world so I'm going to run away from my
problems I'm going to go to the desert
is that the monastic life it's actually
the opposite it's that I care so much
for the salvation of the world that I'm
willing to separate myself for a time to
pray on behalf of the world that's
that's the correct understanding Hey and
that's you and i's understanding when
were at work with our families with our
friends it is our job to to show that
life and to manifest that life and to
continue to be a witness to Christ you
know I said earlier like a lot of times
the kids pick up our bad habits okay
when you talk about life so many times
with my kids I can see my own bad habits
in them you know like I'll tell my son
why are you getting frustrated so
quickly well you know what you know what
gets frustrated quickly I do and every
time I find myself pointing something
out to them I say to myself you know
what you need to change first when I
change then they will change because
they learn in a
rations by the way I interact with them
so if you want to see kind of a summary
of our Orthodox life it's in this
diagram okay
liturgy in greek liturgy a' martyria
what I said martyr means witness a life
of dia Konya or service that's where the
word Deacon comes from he's a servant
and then Kunia or fellowship okay this
if you wanted to summarize it is the
Orthodox life okay you see here all
aspects touching the Orthodox life it's
one complete life so I spoke about the
way the truth in the life and what is
the link it's Jesus Christ himself okay
so our faith if you wanted to sum it up
is tied to my relationship with him a
very personal and deep relationship our
goal is not just to to come here and go
through the motions okay
but there are two very important things
that we have to do number one is I need
to understand the faith how can I
understand the faith it's very simple
through the life of the church
everything that you want to know about
our faith you find it in the liturgy the
Word of God you find it in the liturgy
the Creed you find it in the liturgy all
of my beliefs we find it in the liturgy
the mystical life the uniting with
Christ is in the liturgy everything you
want is tied to the liturgy okay and in
the life of the church so how do I
understand my faith that's how young
kids receive the faith when they see
people taking communion they take
communion when they see us attending the
feast and and celebrating the feast they
do that when they see us fasting and
worshipping and reading our Bible that's
what they do we participate in the life
of the church I don't make up I don't
make up my spirituality
okay the faith was delivered once that's
how I received it and that's how I
understand it the second thing is how
can I keep the faith how can I preserve
it number one is I have to use it okay
when I was in high school I took
and I actually did very well in calculus
and I got A's every single time but I
haven't studied calculus and I don't
know I don't want to say my age but it's
been many years okay I haven't studied
calculus in a long time but I did well
when I was taking it but you know what
happened I don't use it so even though I
did well it means nothing to me why
because I don't use it on daily basis I
remember when we every time we open the
servants preparation course I always get
the same reaction people they're like oh
yeah I took the course like 20 years ago
and I loved it but I forgot so much of
it so I'd like to take the class again
and I always think this I'm always like
what do you mean you forgot it what did
you take that you forgot did you forget
the Bible did you forget the liturgy did
you forget a statement of faith that we
come and recite every what do you mean
you forgot it is that our life that we
just take a class and then we forget it
we don't put it into practice
that's not our Orthodox understanding so
first thing understanding the faith is
participating life of the church second
thing keep the faith by using it
practicing it and then the second thing
is by handing it down okay I have to
hand it down okay because if I don't
hand it down to my children how are they
going to receive it okay if you imagine
a chain going to Christ linking all the
way back to Christ well if I'm here and
then my son and daughter are here if I
don't make that connection how are they
going to receive from Christ themselves
it's very important that we not only
hand it down but we hand it down the
same way that we received it so in this
country we don't necessarily have the
physical persecution like we're seeing
in Egypt or the churches of the Middle
East but 2nd Timothy 3:12 says yes and
all who desire to live godly in Christ
Jesus will suffer persecution every
single person and your persecution may
not be someone holding a gun to your
head but you have your own persecution
you have your own struggle that you have
to carry maybe it's at your work maybe
it's a temptation to cut a corner or to
do something illegal or to do something
you know some sort of lie or cheat or
whatever it is maybe the temptation is
in a certain relation
or whatever my struggle is but even when
you look at the history of the church
even when the outward persecution
stopped like the Roman persecution which
is like one of the heaviest when it
stopped what happened after that you
know where the persecution came from
inside the church heresies and divisions
and fighting okay so the essence of
Christianity is struggle the essence of
Christianity is carrying our cross if
you want to summarize the life of a
martyr or the life of a Christian Christ
said most assuredly I say to you unless
a grain of wheat falls into the ground
and dies it remains alone but if it dies
it produces much grain and that's you
and I if we die we bring much fruit like
those martyrs every time they die you
find the churches more packed you find
more people going into the street you
find more people expressing their faith
and that's why it was said that the
blood of the martyrs is the seed of the
church and I hope that we understand
that theology affects our life theology
matters because what I believe affects
the way I act what I believe affects the
way I act if those martyrs didn't
receive enough to be able to to give
their life I'm sorry if they received
enough to be able to give their life and
I hope that you and I can receive the
same now we may not you know have
someone threatened to kill us but maybe
I can offer my purity to God maybe I can
offer my example to my coworkers I can
witness in my in my work in my school in
with my family but every single one of
us has a job to witness you may not
witness by your blood but we all have a
job to witness so I hope and pray that
we can we can take this example and we
can apply it into our daily lives and
glory be to God forever